The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) unveiled an updated modeling tool for testing water management scenarios, but a spokesman for the agency said it was unlikely to be used for potential oil and natural gas development in the basin, which is currently banned.

In a statement Tuesday, the DRBC said interested stakeholders will be able to use the Planning Support Tool (PST) to test water flow management scenarios, taking into consideration the myriad of flow targets, regulations and laws that govern the use of water in the basin. The tool would show users how the different scenarios would impact drinking water supplies, downstream releases, habitat protection and flood mitigation, among other things.

“The availability of the [PST] modeling tool is a positive development intended to support a more comprehensive understanding about how reservoir and flow management operating plans affect river flows and related aquatic habitats,” said DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini. “It will allow interested stakeholders to use a science-based tool to compare the impacts of ‘what-if’ scenarios on multiple and complex water resource goals, targets and objectives.”

But DRBC spokesman Clarke Rupert told NGI’s Shale Daily that the real purpose for the PST is to analyze the overall impacts to three reservoirs located in the headwaters of the Delaware River that are owned and operated by New York City (NYC). The reservoirs supply the city with about half of its water supply. A Supreme Court decision from 1954 created a five-member group called the Decree Parties — Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and NYC — which in turn agreed to flow targets downstream.

“It wasn’t a tool created for potential natural gas development in mind,” Rupert said Wednesday. “Releases for potential natural gas development activities would not be something that NYC would be able to decide on its own, when it comes to additional releases coming out of this reservoir.

“If natural gas development regulations were to be put into effect, our focus at the DRBC would probably be on impacts of those individual withdrawal points, which would most likely be downstream of those reservoirs. It’s apples and oranges. It’s the [same] watershed of course, and there are connections obviously, but the PST is a planning tool that looks at the overall impacts of reservoir storage and operations and the ability to meet those downstream flow targets.”

The DRBC said its original modeling tool was developed in 1981, and was revised several times since to accommodate additional data, facilities and flow management policies. The agency said that in the early 2000s it was combined with a software system called Oasis to form its current system, which can simulate flexible flow management, but not habitat protection; that uses a different system.

The PST model will be on the agenda for the next meeting of the DRBC’s Regulated Flow Advisory Committee, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 17 at the commission’s office in West Trenton, NJ. The meeting is open to the public.

Although a moratorium on oil and gas development in the basin remains in place, related issues have been creeping into the basin as of late.

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a request for a stay to halt preliminary work on Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC’s (Transco) proposed Leidy Southeast expansion project (see Daily GPI, March 24). The ruling came days after the DRBC decided to table discussion of the project to allow more time for public comment (see Daily GPI, March 13).

PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC has also proposed building a 108-mile natural gas pipeline through the basin, from Pennsylvania to an interconnection on Transco in New Jersey (see Shale Daily, Nov. 19, 2014; Aug. 12, 2014).

In February, the DRBC unveiled a “One Process/One Permit” designed to promote efficiency and cooperation between the commission and the regulatory agencies of its four member states (see Shale Daily, Feb. 27).

The DRBC is led by the governors of the four basin states — Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — and the federal government, represented by the commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic division. It has regulatory jurisdiction over the 13,539-square-mile Delaware River watershed.